What is weaning? Depending on culture, weaning may be defined as introducing foods other than human milk to a baby or stopping breastfeeding entirely.
If you would like support and or more information about weaning, a breastfeeding buddy can help. Reach out and we can match you with a peer who has lived experience!
Natural weaning, sometimes called child-led weaning, occurs when the child no longer has an emotional or nutritive need to breastfeed.
This usually doesn’t occur before 18-24 months of age.
Letting the child set the pace for weaning allows them to reach the developmental milestone of weaning on their own timeline.
Though the child may ultimately decide when the breastfeeding relationship is over, this does not mean the mother sits by passively. As with any relationship, there is an element of give-and-take in the breastfeeding relationship.
Mothers can set limits as the child grows older, such as only nursing at certain times of the day or asking the child to wait until mom is finished with a meal or task.
Natural weaning is a balance between mom and child that can take months or sometimes even a year or more to play out.
Mother-led weaning happens when a mother actively encourages weaning before a child is naturally ready. This may be done by increasing the use of a bottle or cup, offering food/drink besides human milk, or limiting nursing.
When NOT to Wean
It’s important to note that there are several common reasons mothers give for weaning that may not be in the best interests of both mother and child. These include:
- Pressure from others
- Nursing Strike
- Going back to work or school
The decision to wean is not an easy one. It can help if a mother can identify what she is feeling and then accept those feelings without judgment. … A woman may feel nostalgic, sad, or depressed when breastfeeding ends, even if she is the one who made the choice to stop.
FOUR TYPES OF WEANING
The first step towards weaning your baby is introducing complementary foods alongside your breast milk after your baby is six months old.
The weaning process continues until breast milk is completely replaced by other foods and drinks.
- Sudden end to breastfeeding with no warning or preplanning
- Rare situations can make it unavoidable (Mom has a medical issue)
- Abrupt weaning is difficult for Mom and baby
- Causes sudden shift in hormone that can lead to sadness and depression
- Mom can get engorged and/or breast infections
- Mom encourages child to wean by providing interesting distractions and other food to replace nursing
- Occurs over the course of a few weeks or months
- Child is less likely to experience distress
- Mom is less likely to experience extreme hormonal shift and physical side effects
- Compromise between frequent nursing to occasional
- Mom gradually eliminates most nursing’s over a very extended period of time
- Mom chooses to keep the nursings that are most important to the child (night feeding)
- Allows child to outgrow nursing in their own time
- Uses setting limits as a part of the process that geared for the age of the child
- Mom provides guidance for the child
- Respects moms feeling about breastfeeding while taking the child’s needs into account
Don’t Offer, Don’t Refuse- Allow child to decide when nursing is needed, but do not offer breastfeeding in other circumstances ie. To quiet a child when you are on the phone
Redirection- Give the child something else to focus on such as reading a book with him or any other desirable activity.
Substitution- Offer the child a drink or a hug. Often used with redirection.
“Spot” Nursing- Limiting the location that nursing can occur. Ie. “you are welcome to nurse on the big chair in the den or on your bed at sleeping time”. Some moms don’t want to fully wean their toddler but only feel confident breastfeeding in certain places. This allows moms to direct where and how often nursing happens.
Postponement-Delay breastfeeding to another time. ie. “When we are done reading the books and eating lunch you can nurse”.
Shortening the Nursing time- This is a form of limit setting in which the mom uses a tangible way to measure the passing of time for the child to nurse ie. “ when I am done singing twinkle twinkle, we are putting nursing away”.